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Vitamin A-fortified cassava developed by IITA to tackle malnutrition in Africa

Published by Guardian on Wed, 11 Jan 2012


A RESEACHER team led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has developed three new varieties of vitamin A cassava that could improve the livelihoods of millions of farmers in Africa and help put an end to malnutrition due to vitamin A deficiency in the continent.The vitamin A cassava varieties named by the National Variety release Committee of Nigeria as UMUCASS 36, UMUCASS37, and UMUCASS 38 are recognised as IITA genotypes TMS 01/1368, TMS 01/1412, and TMS 01/1371. They have high beta carotene (pro-vitamin A) and are suitable for food uses as gari, fufu, and high quality cassava flour.The yellow root colour of the vitamin A-rich varieties are products of over 20 years of breeding efforts for improved nutritional quality using traditional breeding methods involving hybridisation and selection of cassava seedlings followed by clonal propagation of the selected desirable plants.Drs. Peter Kulakow and Norbert Maroya, IITA Cassava Breeders, said: 'The development of these varieties is a major breakthrough that will change the nutritional status of people living on cassava-based food.'Known for its high carbohydrate content, cassava is the fourth largest staple after wheat, maize, and rice consumed in the developing countries, with over 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa relying on the crop for over half of their daily food energy.The bio-fortification of cassava with pro-vitamin A provides a cost-effective way of combating vitamin A deficiency in the region where millions are malnourished and many people live on less than $1 per day.In Nigeria where the average consumption of cassava is 600 grams per capita per day, about 20 per cent of pregnant women and about 30 per cent of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Resultant health implications include low immunity and impaired vision, which often lead to blindness and even death.Maroya said that the release of this first set of vitamin A cassava varieties in Nigeria was 'a victory for women and children.'The project, funded by Harvestplus, was carried out by IITA with the Nigeria-based National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike and with other local partners.Dr. Chiedozie Egesi, NRCRI Cassava Breeder, said that the development of the varieties marked a new dawn in Nigeria's cassava industry as it was the first set of 'nutritious cassava developed and released in Nigeria.' Farmers who participated in the project loved the varieties for their high-yielding ability and resistance to major diseases and pest. 'Demand for these varieties has already started, but it will take some time before we have enough quantities to give out,' said Paul Ilona, the HarvestPlus Manager for Nigeria.The yellow cassava is already being multiplied through stem cuttings. In 2013, when sufficient certified stems will be available, HarvestPlus and its partners will then distribute these to about 25,000 farming households initially.
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